Abuse of Command

The sorry spectacle [in the 1990s] of U.S. Army drill sergeants preying upon female recruits raises important questions about military culture. It also invites a reread of some parts of scripture for Jews and Christians. Here I consider the well-known narrative of David in 2 Samuel 11.

THE NARRATIVE LINE OF THE story is well-known, attracting continual attention because it is a powerful rendition of illicit sex. David the king spots Bathsheba and asks her over. He is the king; it is a command performance. After only a single rendezvous (so far as we know), she sends the characteristically devastating two-word message: "I'm pregnant." That entire narrative report takes only four verses.

Pregnancy is not what the king intended. And so the cover-up begins. David is prompt. He mandates a furlough for one of his commanders, Uriah by name, who is the husband of Bathsheba (verse 6). David intends, by a furlough for the commander, to encourage visible contact between husband and wife, so that the pregnancy can be understood, or at least publicly presented, as authored by Uriah. Unfortunately for David, Uriah--a non-Israelite!--is a man of high military principle who will not enjoy his wife while his mates are at risk in combat. The relatively benign strategy of the king fails.

But David is undeterred. He goes deeper into the morass of royal manipulation. He sends a written order to Joab, his second in command, ordering the death of Uriah by a calculated, mistaken military strategy (verses 14-15). This time the plan works. Uriah is dead; nobody knows who caused the pregnancy. David's sexual "error" is adequately covered.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 1997
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